There is a war raging in Nigeria between the Fulani and Tiv ethnic groups. It is a classical multifaceted war; stimulated, driven and fuelled by environmental, political and cultural stressors. While the conflict between the sedentary farmers in Nigeria and the Fulani nomadic cattle herders is decades old, the present escalation into a full-blown war between the Fulani and Tiv “cousins” is a recent phenomenon. It is unprecedented, ominous and deserving attention as harbinger of the bad times insidiously creeping on all of us.
The Goodluck Jonathan administration has done very little to address the issues that underlie the conflict and nothing to stop the war. In fact, the President is embattled on all sides by ineffectual policies to stem corruption, poor infrastructure, and the war against the extremist Boko Haram group. The administration is helpless even as the war has become the signature marker of the rising tide of conflicts and anarchy in Nigeria. Clearly, the centre can barely hold.
Nigeria was recently designated the world’s 7th most terrorized state. This designation came from the combined terrorist effect of the Niger Delta insurgency, and the radical group, Boko Haram. These two groups grabbed global attention with their dramatic urban kidnappings, and strategic bombings. Not so the Fulani-Tiv war, a rural war but nonetheless strategic as Nigeria’s internal hemorrhage, signaling the painful throes of a central government wallowing in corruption, ignorance and incompetence. The Tiv and Fulani are critical to Nigeria’s food security. A war between these two will undermine the nation’s food security, if it lingers much longer. Worse still, since the Muslims seem to be tacitly taking sides with the Fulani, as was the case in the Plateau state, this may be the incendiary point where the Christians in the south may come to support the Tiv farmers and Nigeria could go up in flames.
Clausewitz defines war as “an act of violence to compel our opponents to fulfill our will.” In the last two years, the Fulani- Tiv skirmishes manifested as a full-scale war, and can as well be likened to the 33 other armed conflicts taking place globally, in the last two years. The combatants are armed with sophisticated assault weapons, and are determined to wreck maximum havoc. The killing of men, women, and children and the destruction of farm crops and animals are a regular feature of this war.
Recent happenings in Nigeria have unfortunately given the impression that top ranking Fulani elite have already taken sides with the Fulani herdsmen, in the agenda to partition Tiv farmlands into Fulani cattle grazing reserves and resources are being garnered to actualize this agenda through the acquiescence of the Jonathan administration. A national grazing bill is being introduced at the National Assembly to give legality to this conspiracy of land dispossession, and usurpation.
The fact must be pointed out that the nomadic Fulani are conflicted in much of West Africa. In Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Ghana, Niger as in Nigeria, the story of clashes between Fulani herdsmen and crop farmers abound. In all cases it starts with a Fulani herdsman or herdsmen driving their cattle into crops farms to graze. The farmers in order to protect their crops, farms and livelihood, attack the Fulani or attempt to chase them away. The Fulani retaliate by opening fire or violently defending their cows by killing or maiming the farmers. The conflict escalates as the Fulani migrate from that scene to yet another.
In Ghana and Nigeria, the clashes between the Fulani and crop farmers have intensified as desertification, deforestation, and climate changes continue unchecked by successive governments. In Ghana the Fulani are fighting in Agogo, Kanongo, Brong-Ahafo, Northern, Upper East and Western Ghana, Volta and Eastern regions.
In Nigeria, the Fulani have continued to clash with sedentary farming communities in Plateau, Ogun, Oyo, Sokoto, Nassarawa, Benue, Rivers, Bauchi, Yobe, Enugu, Cross-Rivers states and the Federal Capital Territory. The war being fought with the Tiv is fought in Tiv territories of Benue and Nassarawa state, where the Tiv have lived in the last three centuries, farming; rice, yams, cassava, beniseed, soya beans, and keeping their own cattle the Muturu cows. The Benue state and Tivland is Nigeria’s bread basket.
The war Zone
After months of tip-toeing around the subject, the Nigerian media reported that from the 8-10th February 2011, armed Fulani herdsmen numbering between 200-500 sacked three districts in Gwer Local government, unleashing an orgy of violence and killing for two days that left scores dead and rendered 20,000 people homeless. The damage to property according to the media was over a hundred million naira(about $750,000.) Other versions claimed that the Fulani and mercenaries had more sophisticated assault weapons than the police. The Nation Newspaper reported that the operation was “similar to the invasion of Borno state by members of Boko Haram.”
On March 5, 2012, scores of Fulani invaders, crossed river Benue into Benue State. Armed with AK47, Mark 4 and other assault weapons, the Fulani invaders sacked the Tiv farming community, marching through a distance of thirty kilometers from Tse Abatse Mbamegh to Tse Joo. They killed all men, women and children in their path. They also destroyed farmland, economic trees, and burnt down several houses, food barns and killed domestic animals. These communities have had neither previous quarrel nor conflict with the Fulani.
The Fulani attack of Tiv farmers on their ancestral lands has continued sporadically in the past, since 2010, but from 2011, assumed the dimension of a full-scale war of aggression against the Tiv in Benue, Nassarawa and Taraba states. Several hundreds of non-combatant men, women and children have been killed and maimed; over five thousand people are reported to be refugees in their country Nigeria. The firepower of the Fulani has defied even the Nigerian Army, which recorded fatalities when they attempted to engage the invaders. The two governors of the two states have attempted to resolve the conflict without success. In intensity, this war has ben more deadly, and left more casualties, and spread over a larger territory than the Israeli-Palestinian war, in the last one year.
The following communities in Benue state have come under the Fulani firepower. Nyiev, Tse Anda,Yandev,Dooga, Kpata,Lokobi,Mbagwen,Tse Zaki,TseKper,Chile,Tse Kpoku,Tse Kpar, Sengev, Gbuku and Tse Yaji.
In Nassarawa state; Andori,Rukubi, Akpanaja, Agyema, Idaku, Gidan Rai, Ankome, Agimaka, Ekije development area, Migili, Eggon, Agatu and Doma.
An Ominous war
This war is ominous, evil, and condemnable, because all things being equal, the Tiv and Fulani should never fight. At least not go to war, and for this long. They are blood cousins. According to Tiv Chronicles, the Tiv, (a Proto-Bantu ethnic group) came in contact with the Fulani around the 16 th or 17th Century as they migrated into Nigeria. The Tiv established farms and kept their own cattle( muturu) that were restricted around the Tiv homes. The Fulani on the other hand were nomadic herdsmen. They had a symbiotic relationship, as the Tiv produced food for the Fulanis while the Fulani served as standing army to defend the Tiv against invading tribes. Over time they intermarried and considered themselves inseparable.
Tiv Chronicles tell how the Tiv and Fulani parted ways over the Tiv complaints that the larger populated Fulani were marrying all Tiv daughters, leaving the Tiv with fewer daughters to propagate their own identity and group. They agreed to part as friends and cousins. The Tiv called the Fulani Upul, and the Fulani called the Tiv “Munchi” the nickname they gave the Tiv after an incident involving a Fulani household. The Fulani men had gone south with their cattle during the dry season to pasture. After several months they returned home to find the women they had left behind under Tiv supervision pregnant. When the Fulani met his Tiv cousins they admitted that they indeed were responsible.’Munchi’ they admitted. Since that time, the nickname Munchi has been the favorite joking nickname that the Fulani gave to the Tiv. In agreeing to part as friends, the Tiv and Fulani elders made a treaty to live in peace as cousins. This treaty has been observed on both sides with great care. It is encoded in Tiv and Fulani social rituals. During one of the darkest moments of Tiv history, in 2001,when the Tiv were being slaughtered in Taraba, Plateau and Nassarawa states, and in the end the Obasanjo Government ordered a punitive invasion of Tivland known popularly as the Zaki-Biam massacre, the Fulani were implicated.
The crisis started on 23rd June 2001. Mr. Iortim Umande, an unarmed Tiv farmer, found Fulani cattle eating up his crops. When he tried to drive the cattle out of his farm, the Fulani took out his sword and killed him. The resultant reprisals and recriminations led to alliances of bloodletting against the Tiv. As a researcher into the Tiv performance arts, I was surprised that same year, to see the Tiv Kwagh-hir performing artists interpret the scene by depicting the Fulani herdsmen with sympathy instead of anger or derision. On the Fulani side, in the past, a social psycho-drama was performed on the eve of the tenth day of Muharam (ashura)and the rest of the month, when the Tiv and Fulani, as cousins, called each other slaves and exchanged gifts among themselves. It is remarkable that the ancestors of Tiv and Fulani established conflict-resolving mechanisms that the present generations seem unable to revive. Those were the days of staves, bows, arrows and short swords. Today, the Fulani come in platoons, armed with AK 47, and mark 4 assaults rifles and festooned with charms. This is no longer the conflict between herdsmen and crop farmers. It is a war to acquire territory by a total war. But much more is at stake. We are witnessing the spread of the cancerous democratic deficit, when a country’s income and prosperity is more than its level of governance. We are witnessing a tinder situation.
The Political and cultural fault lines of the war
In the early 19th century a Fulani revolution took place in Nigeria. This revolution made the Fulani a ruling class in Nigeria, while the Tiv remained republican and egalitarian. A Fulani Islamic scholar, Shehu Othman Danfodio, instigated a moral revolution in Northern Nigeria, which was ruled by powerful Hausa Emirs. He overthrew them one by one and waged a powerful jihad against the non-Islamic tribes of northern Nigeria. Historians believed that his main intensions were to “dip the Koran in the Atlantic ocean” This did not happen, at least on the eastern flank, either because the Tiv repelled the attack, or the Fulani Jihadists had honoured their age old pact to leave Tiv land alone, as their non-Islamic cousins. In Tiv records, one Damkor, who was decisively beaten, waged the Jihad against the Tiv. In 1911, the Tiv were introduced to Christianity, and they embraced it and western education with vigour. Northern Nigeria then became predominantly Muslim and under the rule of Fulani who had defeated the Hausa Emirs and taken over leadership. The success of this revolution was based on the promise to purify Islam from moral depravity and abuse of office by the Hausa Emirate system.
The Fulani displayed an outstanding ability in manipulating power. For almost a century before Nigeria became a British colony, they ruled the Hausas. But they suffered a cultural setback. To exercise power, they married Hausa women. These Hausa women taught the children Hausa language, and up to today the Fulani are struggling to revive their language without success. The Fulani and Hausas became assimilated to the point that today they are collectively referred to as Hausa -Fulani- a formidable power block in Nigeria, which share the Islamic religion and speak the Hausa language. The great grandson of Shehu Othman Dan Fodio, Ahmadu Bello, became the de-facto leader of Nigeria when his party, the NPC, took over leadership of the nation in 1960 at independence, from British rule. Sir Ahmadu Bello and several northern leaders were killed in the Igbo-led military coup of 1966. Had the Tiv allowed Fulani to marry all their daughters, or became assimilated with Fulani language or abandoned theirs; perhaps the story of Northern Nigeria would be different today. The Tiv and Fulani share a lone Tiv word Shija that the Fulani pronounce Shin-ja, which means ‘lets go’ in both cultures. They parted ways to preserve their cultures, and identity. Yet their paths have crossed over and over again in the Nigerian project. The Tiv have been the glue between the north and south, and have played significant roles in Nigeria to fight for national unity and for the rights of the minorities in all national discourses.
During the first republic the rest of the North supported the NPC, the party led by the the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the great grandson of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate. Only Tivland, in the whole of the north, refused to vote the NPC, and instead voted for the UMBC, which was in alliance with the AG, a party led by the Yoruba leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. They remained in this alliance till the demise of the first republic.
The Tiv played a prominent role during the return of the country to civil rule in the 2nd republic. J.S. Tarka a highly influential Tiv politician, helped to establish the National Party of Nigeria. Here the Tiv/Fulani solidarity made J.S. Tarka to join forces with Fulani who had lost out in the power equation. He drew in the minorities of the North and South, and helped to install another Fulani, Alhaji Shehu Shagari from Sokoto. The National Movement and the National Party of Nigeria were both launched in Benue State. Since then, Benue state has become the “Ohio” of Nigerian politics. Since 1979,whoever wins Benue state wins the national elections. The Tiv apparently have been the political barometer of the country. The Tiv and Fulani have often worked together politically in spite of their religious differences. They proved in the past that Nigeria could become a viable democracy when the leaders embrace diversity. Nigeria will need to embrace diversity or perish. This is why the present war between these two is particularly worrisome.
During a recent Tiv –Fulani peace conference in June 2012 at the Government House Makurdi, I had the privilege of hearing the present Sultan of Sokoto, His Majesty, Alhaji Saad Abubakar (the supreme leader of the Fulani in Nigeria ) outline the essential cultural attributes of the Fulani herdsmen and the Fulani. He said that the Fulani are trans-border, peace-loving people, who are attached to their cattle. The Fulani can kill in order to defend their cattle from danger and are easily provoked. They are courageous fighters, who do not easily forgive adversaries. Most Fulanis are Muslims.
The Tiv character and culture, on the other hand, is based on values of freedom and rights of the individual, as well as deep attachment to farm production as the source of resources to exercise this freedom, and independence. The Tiv, are republican, and peaceful people, but when attacked are quick to band together to respond decisively. The Tiv avoid conflicts and can go to remarkable lengths to ward off conflicts. The Tiv believe in justice and believe that all men and women are equal. Anthropologists in fact consider the Tiv as the last egalitarian society on earth. They are the single largest ethnic group of non-Muslims in northern Nigeria.
To be Continued…
Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher Ph.D, is Executive Director, African Leadership Institute, Dayton, Ohio